The Symbolic Jesus Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Construction of Identity


TheSymbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Constructionof Identity

Thebook, The Symbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and theConstruction of Contemporary Identity authored by Arnal Edwardexplore the various facets of the debate concerning how Jewish wasthe historical Jesus with an aim of placing Him in a historicalflame. In the debate, Arnal positions himself as an un-Jewish Jesus,which consists of scholars who hold the view that Christianity tendsto be anti-Jewish. Some of the argument he holds that makes him anun-Jewish Jesus is his argument that the sources that tend to connectJesus with Christianity are hopeless theology as a result of theabsent objectivity practiced by traditional theologians who initiatedthe search for Jesus` historicity. His views are that historicallyJesus does not offer an explanation for the onset of Christianity.The questions surrounding the historical Jesus had dominated studiesin Christianity for several centuries, and it seems the debate is yetto come to an end.Over the years, there seems to be an agreementon the Jewishness of Jesus. However, this is not the case among allscholars as there exist a vibrant anti-Jewish history. For thisreason, there exists a substantial difference between the Gospel orthe Biblical narration of Jesus portrait and the newly createdportrait of Him by several theologian scholars from the work ofBauer, Schweitzer among others. While before the 19thCentury the Bible was the sole source of information about Jesus,some scholars began the textual analysis with the aim of coming upwith a historically valid conclusion about the life of Jesus.Thispaper asserts that Arnal Edward rejects the current inquiry intoJesus historicity on the basis that Jesus was symbolically relevantfor this inquiry to be met the scholarly objectivity standard ofresearch.

Arnalargues that it is the cultural significant of Jesus that prevents theobjective study into Christianity and according to him, this is oneof the reasons that has contributed to the controversy beingexperienced in the study of Jesus’ historicity. He views theproblem as being brought by the scholars who offer an insiderconstruction of Jesus (Arnal, 2005). On the other hand, Wright (1996)thinks that after scholars were angered by the ancient Christiandogma of the existence of one`s source of information on thepersonhood of Jesus, some of these scholars sought to be neutral intheir studies and what they found was Jesus with no features. Theycome to these findings in their attempt to eradicate Jesus from hissymbol. The same opinion is held by Bauer, who argues that the oldquest into Jesus historicity happened during the Enlightenment periodwhere religious Dogma were slowly becoming unacceptable as crediblesources, and instead there was a need for objectivity (Witherington,1997).This point of view is held by Schweitzer, who denounced thetraditional theologians for their subjectivity in exploring theperson of Jesus (Bauer, 2004). For Schweitzer, these scholars failedto separate the line between their preferences toward Christianityand the character of Jesus. Schweitzer also cites the work of formertheologian Bauer who started the movement that denounces the Jesus’historicity. Schweitzer viewed the portrait of Jesus depicted in the19thcentury as having failed in missing his apocalyptic message andinstead painting their individual portrait of Him (Witherington,1997).&nbspOnthe other hand, Clark (1995) views herself as a scholar of antiquityand thus study Jesus as a famous character in terms of Jewishantiquity. For her, the study in the person of Jesus should go pastJesus enquiry into his personhood as the Gospel speaks of Jesusasking his disciple who the people think he is. On this note, fromthe answers the disciple gave to Jesus on his personhood: “somepeople think that you are a prophet while others Jeremiah but thedisciples think you are God’s son shows the origin of differentperspectives” (Clark, 1995). For Clark, the truth about JesusHistoricity is elusive, and she says that this is because of theinexistence of objective truth as people have different creations ofthe truth.

Arnal’sview is that the academia is no longer interested in learning aboutthe Jewish-Jesus but instead, there is a tendency to explore thehistorical Jewish in the Jesus. This is line with the arguments putforward that Jesus was un-Jewish. This has triggered extensive debateon the ethnic character, how fluid the Judaism marker is as well asthe Galilee’s religious character (Arnal, 2005). However, Arnal isnot concerned with the historical debate, but instead, he isconcerned with the moral debate. He is of the idea thatanti-Semitism is in existence in the current scholarship and arguesthat Christian anti-Judaism teds to move toward it. Besides, he seesa tendency to explore Jesus from outside his environment but hethinks that the current scholarship is on the right trackparticularly with the current Jewish historical reconstruction.According to Witherington(1997), Schweitzerand Karhoff are the other scholars who disagreed with the Jesus’historicity. For Karhoff, the Jesus that the Christians believe to beGod’s son and conceived through the power of Holy Spirit to Mariais different from the masonry Jesus. Karhoff is of the view that onlyone of these individuals is the historical one while the other isnot. However, these scholars do not refute the existence of Jesus inJudea but disagree with the notion that this person is responsiblefor initiating the Christianity movement. However, Clark (1995)disagrees with these arguments and tend to thinks that Jesus played acritical role in the starting and the spread of Christianity. On theother hand, on Jesus Identity, Bauer explores the writings ofReimarus one of the first historical theologians to study Jesushistoricity and who viewed Jesus as a failed reformer and insteadof his followers accepting the leader’s failure, they formed theearly Catholic Church to cover up their despair. He cites Reimarus asconcluding that the Jewish myth of the coming of the messiah resultedin the burring of Jesus historicity to an extent that it wasimpossible to write his biography (Bauer, 2004).However, Wrightargues that the Jewish actually believed in Jesus messiahship andthis is mostly as a result of his resurrection as opposed to otherevolutionally leaders who were either killed by the leadership ortheir enemies.

Onthe issue of religious Identity, Arnal argues that the current debateis on what comprises a real Jew. On this note, he quotes fromSawiski, page 232 in which he argues that the current debate amongscholars on the historicity of Jesus is confined to whether or notJesus was Jewish and not on the source of his Jewishness (Arnal,2005). Sawiski, according to Arnal thinks that the question of thesource of one’s Jewishness should respectfully be left to the Jews.Arnal thinks that there are two types of scholars the betterscholars who make a Jewish Jesus while the other group consist of theinferior scholars who came up with the Non-Jesus Jewish (Arnal,2005). On this note, Wright (1996) opposes Schweitzer’sapocalyptic account and argues that it should be modified. He thinksthat the current literal study of Jesus should not make an attempt toabolish Jewish traditions. It is clear to Arnal that there exist aparameter or a criterion among scholars on what constitutes Judaism,and it is from this template that Scholars use to measure how JewishJesus was. The Judaism in this context entails certain concepts suchas the people’s obedience to Torah, the Temple as well as itseschatological expectation. Besides these essential aspects ofJudaism, Scholars explores the Israelites Semitic speech to constructthe historicity of Jesus. For instance, Arnal says “Jesus was arabbi as seen in his attendance of Jewish festival, respect for theSabbath as well as the adherence to the Jewish tradition ofcircumcision for the boy child” (Arnal, 2005, 56).However,Wright argues that in many ways Jesus went against the Jewishtradition. First, he preached that his followers must do away withtheir worldly possession, challenged the idea of Sabbath, and evenconsidered his believers as a form of a Kingship family differentfrom the traditional Jewish family thus challenging the concept offamily loyalty. However despite this, Jesus did not seek to denouncehis Jewish origin but, was seeking to alter the Jewish symbol suchas the temple, Torah and the Sabbath to be in line with God’s plan(Wright, 1996). For this reason, Wright considers Jesus as firstcentury Jew.

Arnalcontinues the debate on Jesus historicity started in the 19thcentury, prior to which people used to view the Gospel as written inthe Bible as having irrefutable truth on the life of Jesus. Togetherwith other scholars, Arnal refutes the ancient Christian dogma andseeks to unravel the true identify of Jesus. First, Arnal conflictswith the traditional theologians who were unable to study whether thehistorical Jesus was a Jew or not as they were heavily influenced bytheir belief in his symbol in Christianity. He refers to this groupas offering an insider construction of Jesus. However, while somescholars support this neutral approach to Jesus studies, others thinkit is impossible factoring the central role Jesus plays inChristianity. Arnal thinks that the current theologian scholars arestudying not the Jewish Jesus but, Jewish in the historical Jesus.On this note, there is a division among scholars on whether theJewish Jesus is the same as the historical Jesus. On the other hand,while there is consensus on the existence of Christ, some scholarsargue that he was not responsible for the creation of Christianity.In fact, some especially Reimarus as seen in Bauer`s article viewsthe historical Jesus as a reformer who made an attempt to changeseveral aspects of Jewish tradition but, was unable and thatChristianity was started by his believers as a cover up for theirdespair. On the contrary, some scholars such as Wright think that thepeople believed that Jesus was not an ordinary reformer, and neitherwas the messiah a myth after his resurrection.


Arnal, W. E. (2005).&nbspThe Symbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Construction of Contemporary Identity. Equinox Publishing Ltd.

Bauer,M. (2004). &quotA Survey of Historical Jesus Studies: From Reimarusto Wright.&quot Accessed on March 11, 2016,

Clark,E. (1995). “Searching for Jesus.” Accessed from

Witherington,B. (1997).&nbspTheJesus Quest: The Third search for the Jew of Nazareth.InterVarsity Press.

Wright,N. T. (1996). The Historical Jesus and Christian Theology.&nbspSewaneeTheological Review,&nbsp39,404-412.